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In conversation with EUTV’s Kate Woraker Cerys Maidment: producer and interviewer in the student mental health documentary

Alexa: What was the inspiration behind this project?
Cerys: I have always wanted to do a documentary with EUTV, particularly as President. I know the mental health services at Edinburgh have been a really contentious issue and one that has really engaged students.

The system isn’t perfect, it has a lot of flaws, flaws which ensure that students are really struggling. I soon realised that with the pandemic and lockdown underway, we had a story here. It isn’t been covered by the mainstream media either and so we saw an opportunity to cover this situation.

Alexa: Kate, is this your first project for EUTV?
Kate: Yes, although I had worked behind the camera on other projects within the society. It was really great to have something that I played a significant part in, not least because it proves to myself that I didn’t sit in my room the entire semester!

Alexa: What was it like filming during the pandemic?
Cerys: We didn’t really do any, to be honest! It was mainly just Kate sat on room Zoom calls while I scribbled beside here. We considered having in person interviews with social distancing in a park, but one of our first interviews was soon cancelled as the person’s flat mate fell ill. It became apparent Zoom was the way forward But I think that might have worked out better in a way. These are obviously very personal topics to talk about.

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As lovely as Kate is, meeting up with someone to discuss these experiences with a microphone and camera in your face is quite intimidating, but a Zoom call may well have made people more comfortable and is in some ways a ‘softer’ approach. Online interviews may well have worked better than in person ones.

Alexa: How difficult was it to find your student interviewees?
Cerys:
We tried to contact people who had used certain hashtags on social media and had been vocal about the issues already, as this has been a problem for a while now. We also posted a form for people to anonymously send us their experiences and we had some hugely important testimonies provided to us through that.

It was also useful that Kate is in first year and so could get us in contact with freshers, something which we really wanted to do although it was understandably very difficult to find people who were willing to open up having just moved to a new city and started at University.

Kate: As a first year I get the sense some people feel nervous about saying negative things about a university you had just joined. A lot of people are understandably anxious about drawing attention to themselves immediately, and sadly I do think that had an impact.
Alexa: How did you make contact with Colm Harmon and Andrew Shanks?

Was it a difficult process to get them on the Zoom call?
Cerys: We were prepared to be disappointed, but it was very easy. I sent emails using the address book and got quick replies. Our fears about not getting a response or just having to use the University’s press team for a statement did not come to be, thankfully!

Alexa: What was it like interviewing these senior university figures about these issues?
Kate:
It was definitely intimidating to start off with. In the end though I enjoyed jumping straight in so to speak, despite being her for just six weeks at the time as a first-year student. I wanted to know the answer to these questions myself and so it was just really interesting to be able to ‘hound them’ for answers for my own knowledge and the documentary. I think Zoom certainly made it less intimidating.

Frankie: Do you think the lack of mental health support at the university has made a big impact on Edinburgh’s poor student satisfaction rating? Do you think this may prompt a change in approach?
Cerys: It’s tough to say for certain. But as the GP said at the beginning of the documentary, an important test is if a student were to go around campus and ask students if they felt like their university was a caring and supportive environment, and I don’t think many would say yes.

The testimonies we were hearing about having to ‘prove’ that you are struggling and facing long waiting list of five months for a councillor are the sort of problems that ensure student satisfaction is low as the student community don’t feel cared for in the best way possible.

Kate: I remember just last year when I was deciding between universities and noticing that the student satisfaction scores were not that great, to say the least. I’m the first of my immediate family to go to university but they were well aware of the issue and sat me down, as we discussed that I would have to go with that in mind. It definitely was an issue that stood out for me and it could well put some people off of the university completely.

Frankie: What sort of reception and feedback have you got so far?
Cerys:
We haven’t got too much feedback from the University itself yet, although did send it to Andrew Shanks who had told me that he wanted to see it when it was finished. He did help us with a lot of interesting statistics we had been struggling to find in his interview with Kate, as we originally might have had to submit a freedom of information request. Others have told me it was the most professional thing that they had seen produced so far, which was really great to hear.

Kate: Let’s just say a hundred of the viewers might be my family as my mum has sent it into every WhatsApp group chat! The feedback I have got from people has been very positive though, even among people I haven’t seen in a while once I shared it across my social media. It isn’t a topic that is discussed enough in the mainstream media, so I think people were drawn to it immediately because of that.

Frankie: So, in your view – is the university doing enough?
Kate:
I wouldn’t say so. What they are doing sounds great, the ideas and plans appear to tick all of the boxes, the messages we heard from students just don’t reflect this.

Cerys: I don’t think the university are doing enough. I hope that figures like Andrew Shanks and Colm Harmon and others do not interpret this as an attack and instead as feedback, seeing a student led response to the current situation might help provoke change.

Image via EUTV